Thursday, February 17, 2000

Far OUTTTT Forest With the Kid: Part III & IV - Howard

We continued on our ride, keeping a slow pace, but every now and then I`d take off on Dance Line, cantering and checking his responses, especially in the deep sand. I had almost decided, or Dance had decided for me, that the canter would be the gait of choice on this ride, if Dance`s heart, respiration rate and, especially, his legs can handle that pace. I felt that it would be safer, with Dance`s old tendon injury, in a canter than in a trot with the softness of the ground here. I wasn`t too worried about Rebel and Jennifer being able to keep up.

I didn`t get to talk much with Saint Sandy, since her Arab mare didn`t want to be near my guy at all. And once, during the ride, Sandy`s horse got too close to Rebel and he kicked her right in the breast collar. Rebel`s never kicked another horse before on the trail, so Jen and I were very surprised and apologetic. St. Sandy (this kinda stuff helps confirm her Sainthood) said not to worry about the kick; it was her mare`s fault and she hopes her horse learned something.

We returned to ridecamp a different way then we left, so I didn`t get to see if my naked sunbather was still catching some rays. I considered taking a solo ride back that way, but decided a beer was more important. Jen and I say good-bye to Sandy and Samantha, untacked our horses and put them back in their portable corral. I throw some hay at them and tell Jen I`m taking a nap.

I give her instructions as to where she can go (Samantha`s rig or the Pavilion or Roxanne`s rig). Roxanne is a close friend who is kinda my mentor when it comes to endurance riding. I met her at this ride last year and have spent time with her at almost every ride I`ve attended (I think I`m up to 8) and have learned to respect her advice. She also does 100`s and is a possible sponsor for my daughter if Jen ever gets to that level. Rox adores Jennifer and I plan on using this as my selling point for sponsorship. The truth is I sure as hell won`t and probably can`t do a hundred. I didn`t even want to do a 35 let alone a 50; but Jen has me sold on the idea of a 50 at our next ride if we do well here tomorrow. Last year I used to say I`d never do a 50 cause it would interfere with my naptime. haha.

I take my nap and dream. I dream of Angie. It`s not a sexual dream, in fact quite the opposite. I haven`t told you about her, but mentioned her earlier and you may be wondering just who I was talking about. So, I`ll tell you. Angie`s a southern endurance rider, who has done quite well in the 50`s. As far as I know she and her horse aren`t 100 mile material, but Angie has acquired quite a few miles and won the GERA 50 when I attended. I did a measly 25. I met Angie, prior to the GERA ride, on the computer (online) by way of a website that caters to endurance riders and endurance wannabes, like myself.

Besides being an endurance rider, Angie`s also a writer (sound like anybody you know?). And she has an attitude with a "male ego" attached. She is a witty and humorous writer and I made the mistake of "taking her on" with my thoughts on this particular website, that`s really like a delayed chat room. Anyhow, we became adversaries at the start and it hasn`t gotten much better with time. Basically, I`m a Florida Gator, and she`s from any other Southern State that happens to beat the Gators during that particular year (and she says she doesn`t even like football). This year she`s from Alabama, since the Gators beat Tennessee and Georgia, but lost to Alabama twice. But, I digress....back to my dream.

I dream of riding the GERA 2000 classic, which I know will be the first ride I will do after my summer break (summer breaks are required if you live in Florida). I`m in the 50 and I don`t take Jennifer. Don`t want any baggage with me this time, cause I`m hunting for bear. And my quarry is Angie. AS GOD IS MY WITNESS (sorry) I`m gonna beat her one time before I die. (Now, remember this is all a dream, I don`t really think like this.) I don`t have to win the GERA, even though Angie won it last year. All I have to do is beat this wild woman, who rides like a jockey with a tongue that whips like a riding crop. In my dream, as I yell at the rude drivers in Atlanta on my way to ridecamp, instead of using curse words when someone cuts me off, I yell "Angie." As in "Angie you asshole." Actually, that should be "Angie you Angie," but "Angie, you asshole" sounds funnier to me, for some reason. Hey, it`s a dream and kind of fuzzy.

Anyhow I get to ridecamp, set up and at the preride briefing Angie and her buddies make fun of me. Tell me how they`re gonna kick my butt and how men really shouldn`t wear tights, even on a horse. One of them decides to call me Robin Hood, the Merriest of Men. I take it all in stride, smile, don`t start anything (remember, this is a dream), and just smolder inside. They don`t realize it but they have all just fed the machine a lot of fuel. I know I will beat her tomorrow, or I will die trying.

I`ll digress here a bit from the dream and tell y`all that endurance riding has become my life. It`s what I live for (you might want to skip the next two paragraphs if you don`t like sentimental crap). It permeates my dreams and influences my life. It`s all I think about, I`ve become obsessed. The camaraderie at ridecamp, the feeling that most riders really care about the sport and their horses and, like I`ve said before, the intensity of the event. And riding with my 11 year old daughter, watching her compete against full grown adults, and do well; it`s all a bit too much for me sometimes.

I`ve yet to see a poor rider at any of the endurance rides I`ve attended and to win is something to be very proud of. I`m consumed by it all; I`ve even learned camping, though I still am not crazy about that aspect of endurance riding, especially when it gets down to 20 degrees. But to me, the main ingredient is the love of your horse. It`s indescribable how I feel about Dance Line, and I know more than anyone how special he is. Sure he has a few bad habits, he nips at me when he`s nervous and he might rear up if I force him to go where he doesn`t want to. I could probably beat these bad habits out of him, but I choose not to. Instead, he and I both make modifications to accommodate the other. Anyway, I`ll just close this paragraph by saying there are a few riders I really do respect and want to beat on my 17 H non Arab horse, and Angie`s on top of the list.

Back to the dream. We start off early the next day with Angie and her friends still making fun of me in my tights and my tall legged horse, who doesn`t have one drop of Arab blood in him. I smile, but maneuver to the front of the line in this controlled start. We take off slow, but as soon as the leader releases us we are all off in a gallop. I stay right behind Angie and follow her the entire way. After the third loop, at the vet check, Angie realizes I`m in for the long haul and says to me, "Shorty, I`m gonna kick it up a notch, so don`t get in my way." More fuel has just been added to my fire and she doesn`t even know.

She and I leave the vet check at the same time and she keeps her word. Forgetting the canter, she gallops into the forest, with lots of knee breaking trees that can rip off your legs, with sharp twists and turns, the trail becomes a real challenge, especially on my horse, who has the longest back in the world. She gets a long lead on me and Dance and, soon, is out of site. This infuriates me but I stick to the plan of mostly canter, occasional trot, all the way. Towards the end I spot her. Her horse seems to be tired and she`s walking. I gain on her, pass her, raise up my butt high in the air so she can get a good look, turn my head around at her and say, "Take a peak at my best asset BAMA." And I win the race, ten minutes ahead of Angie, who comes in second place.

OK, it`s a dream, but I wake up invigorated. I almost wish Angie was here, but for some reason she chooses to skip the Florida rides. It`s almost dark outside and I start worrying about The Far Out Forest Pervert and go look for my Jennifer. I find her at Samantha`s rig, both playing this Gameboy handheld computer toy and I hang out with the kids for a few minutes. I tell Jen we have to go feed the horses, we do this, and then wander to Roxanne`s rig. Roxanne has these two adorable miniature dogs (haven`t a clue as to the breed) that we take with us to the dinner and subsequent pre-ride briefing at the Pavilion.

For some reason I end up with both dogs, each on a leash, inside the Pavilion (it`s a French thing) while everyone stands in line for their spaghetti dinner. I get lots of strange looks from people in line because of the tiny dogs. They probably think I`m either gay or French since I look kinda out of place with these two tiny dogs, whose combined weight is less than my cat back home. Roxanne and Jennifer return and I get in line for my food.

After eating, the manager starts his thing and all I really want to know is the start time for the 35. Somewhere during his talk he says the 35 milers will start at 6:30, along with the 100 milers, and the 50 milers will start at 7:00 AM. Whoooooaaaaa there Mr. Ridemanager, whatever happened to the LD`s starting late and sleeping in? I almost get up to object to this scenario, but decide otherwise. Man, it doesn`t even get light until 7:00 AM. I`ll have to tack up in the dark, something I avoid whenever possible. This is the first ride I`ve attended where the LD`s are not the last group to leave. I hope this isn`t a trend.

After dinner breaks up Jen decides she`s going to bed. I let her walk on up alone to our tent (making sure she has her flashlight), inspite of The Far Out Forest Pervert, and go have a few beers with Roxanne, who has a campfire going. We talk about the deep sand, about other riders (I do love gossip) and a couple other friends join us around the campfire. Allison, one of Rox`s friends, is there and she tells me she has actually read and enjoyed my endurance stories. Since I don`t have too many fans, when I find one, I treat them like gold. I offer Allison beer, wine, a back rub, anything to keep her reading and liking my stuff. She laughs, but declines on all offers. After a while I say good-bye to all and head off to my tent. The night is crisp, but not freezing, and we`re only hours away from lift off.

Sleeping in a cold tent is not an easy thing to do. I ignite a gas heater inside, the one that says "Don`t use indoors," and put it close to my face. I`ll probably wake up with a sunburn tomorrow. It`s not freezing out, but one of those nights that`s just a bit too cold to sleep outside, tent or no tent. I eventually get a few hours sleep, but it`s not a deep one and I don`t dream (lucky for Angie). I wake up at 5:00 and decide it`s time to get up, feed the horse and light up my flame throwing burner for coffee.

Normally, I can count on a couple of GA buddies for coffee, but they didn`t make this ride, so I`m on my own. I feed the horses, rub Dance`s head between his eyes and tell him, again, if he gets me and Jen and Rebel through this today there is nothing I won`t do for him. Nothing. I put my burner on top of my cooler (I regret this action later), pump up the alcohol, turn the crank, and light up Flame Thrower. And it does. Six feet atleast. And I put the darn thing under a tree again, what the heck was I thinking?

I go grab a blanket, for possible use, but the flame does eventually die down. The burner did ignite a few leaves on the tree overhead, but no one will ever notice. I put on the tea kettle and get this really cool thing out of a Wal-Mart box that`s made especially for toasting bread on a gas outdoor burner. I love new shit. And it just so happens I have some bagels, also from Wal-Mart, and I light the other burner, put on my new toaster gadget and add a bagel. Too cool, and I didn`t lose a tree.

So there I am, drinking coffee, toasting bagels, just having a really great time. I wake up Jen, let her go get some hot chocolate at the Pavilion. As I enjoy my food I start to think that, maybe, I actually have this camping thing down. Jen comes back and asks me for the time. I look at my watch, with my flashlight (it`s still dark outside), and scream, "Oh shit, it`s 6:30." Damn. How`d that happen?

Part IV

We rush tacking up the horses in the dark, I put out all fires, and I`m pissed. Just can`t believe the time got away from me like that. We finally get the horses tacked, Jen mounts Rebel by herself (you should see this) and I find a stump that aids me with getting on top of my giraffe. I look at my watch and it`s 6:53, 7 minutes till the 50 starts. We trot pass Roxanne, who is warming up her horse for the 50. She yells, "Man, are you two late!". We yell out our numbers to the clipboard lady, and canter off down the trail.

I tell Jen we will still stick with our plan of a slow canter, even though we missed our starting time (way to go Dad). All because of that new cooking gadget from Wal-Mart, hot coffee and a couple of toasted bagels. I want to stay ahead of the 50 milers, as much as possible, even if we only have a 7 minute jump on them. And the only way to do this is to canter. Dance is in the lead, as usual, and Jen and I have the trail completely to ourselves. There is daylight, but it`s predawn daylight, so not very bright out. The sand is deep, but in some places the trail is in good shape, if you keep your horse on the side where it hasn`t been torn up by the 4 wheelers.

Lot`s of low branches here, so I try not to look behind me at Jen, cause I know as soon as I do one of them will get me. And on my tall horse I have to duck more than most riders. We clip along at a good pace, with motivation being not letting the front runners in the 50 catch us. I know our lead from them won`t last forever, I`m just trying to delay them passing us right away. Both Dance and Rebel are into this run and know they have buddies somewhere up ahead. If I die and reincarnate I want to come back as an endurance horse with a young, pretty female owner who gives me lots of beer.

The trails are deep sand, where the 4 wheelers have tore deep into the ground (I`m not a fan of this motorized sport), but most of it isn`t too bad. I spot a lot of hidden roots and try to avoid them by riding the high end of any holes. Rebel follows us perfectly. It is a beautiful morning, a nice chill is in the air, and it just might be perfect weather for my horse. He is overly excited, which is normal for him in an endurance run. I try and control his pace, to keep Dance from breaking out into a racehorse sweat. The brisk weather is helping.

The mist rises above the lakes here giving it an eerie quality. The fog, created by the lakes, would make great cover for The Far Out Forest Pervert this morning. Thanks Jean, for letting me know about some of the whacko people who live in these woods. I push out the bad thoughts and think of my sunbather, with that smile on her face. Much better.

As Jen and I continue, I get that feeling of "this is the greatest sport in the world" and I wish I had started it earlier in my lifetime. I`ll just have to let Jen make up for my lost riding time. I know she`s into it as much as I am; I hope it continues. I plan on distracting her from the one thing that may hinder this goal, boys, till she`s 35. She`s still at an age where they`re almost a nonentity, but I know it`s coming, sooner than I would like.

For once Jen isn`t talking a lot. I look back at her, when it`s safe to do so, to make sure she`s OK. I can hear Rebel constantly, he has this type of breathing where he exhales loudly every time his front hooves hit the ground while cantering. Sounds kinda cool. Reminds me of a professional tennis player, how they grunt when they whack at the ball. "Ummmmmmmpppppphhhhhhhh" says Rebel. This, also, lets me know how close he is. I do love Rebel, almost as much as Dance Line, cause he has this habit of never passing me on the trail, no matter how much Jen pushes him to do so. I consider this a safety feature that keeps my kid from losing control of her horse in, what a lot of people consider, an extreme sport.

I duck to miss a branch, but not enough and my helmet cracks the limb. Man that would have knocked me out cold if I didn`t have this helmet on. I`m at the point where, if you, as an endurance rider, choose not to wear one, I feel that you`re a complete idiot and not serious about the sport or haven`t done enough rides. If I saw a downed rider who wasn`t wearing one, I`d stop and help but he/she would hear it from me about their stupidity, coma or no coma.

After a while, I eliminate all negative thoughts and just enjoy what Jen and I are doing. No one is ahead of us. We go on like this for at least 5 miles. Very little hills (hey, it is central Florida) and the most change in elevation is about 6 feet (Florida Mountain). I do love my state, and wish more riders would come down here to run with us locals. This time of year the bugs are dead and the snakes are buried deep underground, out of site where I like them. Few tornadoes and no hurricanes; what more could you ask for? I did forget the fire danger is high, but nothing`s burning yet.

I notice Dance is sweating a little more than I`d like to see, so I slow down to a trot and then to a walk. Not long after doing this I hear the first group of 50 milers closing in. Jen and I let the group of 4 riders pass. I ask my partner if she wants to try and keep up with the big boys. She yells a resounding YES and off we go. Dance always seems more motivated when he can see a horse or two in front of him. And today is no exception.

I keep the riders in site and sometimes we even get close enough to pass. But I hold back, knowing these riders will canter all the way. And they do. Not once do any of them trot their horses; even after we follow for several miles. The trail is wide enough for a vehicle, but it better be 4 wheel drive. Jen and I stay right behind the leaders for almost 5 miles, then I pull back on Dance and we trot for a while. And then I notice something bad. Damn.

Dance`s head is bobbing every so often, in the trot, even though he doesn`t feel off. I curse to myself, knowing I might have pushed him too hard. I get that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach that he`s gonna get pulled at the first vet check, which is only a couple more miles ahead. Even if Dance isn`t lame, if the vet sees his head bob while trotting out I`m gonna be stuck out here in the middle of nowhere.

We walk a bit and I try and figure out if Dance is lame or just tired. I play around with his trot, post on the left diagonal then the right, to see if it`s the left front, where his old tendon bow is. He stops bobbing his head, so I wonder if he`s OK? I feel no sign of lameness and hope we might atleast get thru the first vet check without a hitch.

And up ahead I see a group of people hanging around and realize we just covered 14 miles. I`m ready for a break. Jen and I give our cards to the check in lady, who marks our in time, and hands them back. We dismount and walk over towards the vet area. I bend down and feel Dance`s old bow, no swelling or tenderness that I can see. Good! Rebel and Dance are both pumped up cause of all the other horses and activity. We stop for water at a large trough, and I spot Phil, who crews for his wife. I know he has at least a stethoscope. I ask if he`ll check out Dance`s heart rate, it tends to run high, and Phil pulls out this really cool electronic thing, puts it on the left side in front of the girth, and in less than ten seconds tells me it`s 70. He checks Rebels and it`s in the low 50`s. Damn Arabs rule when it comes to pulse and respiration.

We walk around a little with our horses, Rebel and Dance cannot be separated in this situation, with me looking for my bucket of feed. I don`t see it anywhere. There`s not much of a line at the P&R area so I decide to gamble on Dance`s pulse. I turn Dance so he can look at Rebel while the lady uses her stethoscope and she gives us a passing 64. Rebel is 50. I go up to one of the vets, he does his thing super quick and then tells me to trot out. Dance and I take off and I can tell he`s OK. Back to the vet, check complete, all A`s, and wait for Jen to finish. Too easy, what was I so worried about? Jen finishes with all A`s also and we start our 30 minute hold.

We wander together, looking for my lost bucket loaded with beet pulp, some grain and other goodies. I spot Phil again, and he offers this beet pulp mash that he has left over. Phil`s a classy southern gentleman who I hang out with any chance I can, hoping some of it will rub off on me. This has yet to happen. His wife, who does 50`s, is getting ready to leave the vet area. She has to be in that 4 group that we followed for so long. Dance and Reb dig into the food, both gobbling it up, which makes me and Jen quite happy. They also steal some nearby hay and drink a lot of water. These two are into this run today.

I get concerned about them stealing the hay, Phil comes by and tells me it`s his, help yourself. What a cool dude. I`m still irked that my bucket is not here, because I had two syringes of oral electrolytes I wanted to give the horses. Oh well, crewing for yourself is the pits (pun intended).

Our 30 minute hold flies by and we mount up, tell the clipboard lady we`re leaving and off we go. I spot Roxanne up ahead, with a few other riders, and Jen and I join them. We work our way up to the canter, and off we go. Jen loves talking to Roxanne, so the Mouth of the South (Jen) starts in on her. Poor Rox, I know she`s gonna hear whatever is on Jennifer`s mind for the next 5 miles or so. It always amazes me how Jen can talk and canter her house, simultaneously. When I first started riding endurance I was never able to do this, and I`m still not crazy about it. But I notice a lot of women have this gift, while a lot of men either don`t have it or elect not to use it.

Speaking of men, I forgot to tell y`all, I saw two male riders at camp and both had cuts on their cheeks, a result of running into the low hanging branches. One gentleman was bleeding so heavily I was concerned and mentioned it to him. This kind of struck me as funny, for some morbid reason, especially when I noticed not one female had even a tiny scratch on her face. Must be a macho kind of thing, instead of ducking we`ll just go through those branches.

I ask Rox to point out the tricky turn the 35 milers have to take. Evidently, a large number of riders missed the intersection last year and ended up doing a 50. She says she will and that it`s not much further up ahead. OK, my conversation is over, and Jen takes my place. The mind of an eleven year old girl is constantly evolving, and I do believe if the mouth doesn`t continue to move the whole process stops.

Rox points out the turn to us and we all separate. One rider has joined us and she asks if we mind her company. I advise her she might want to wear ear plugs, Jen gives me a dirty look, and we introduce ourselves. Her name is Maria and she is riding a tiny Arab mare about Rebel`s age (ten). It`s Maria`s first endurance ride and she seems to be enjoying it quite a bit. I tell her we plan on cantering most of the way, and she says, "No problem, I`ll try and keep up." Dance leads the way and the three of us continue on a wide path out in the middle of nowhere. We`re so isolated I feel like a Knight whose job it is to protect these young women on a dangerous trail while traveling between castles. Any pervert shows himself out here and I will lop off his head. haha.

This loop definitely seems more remote than the first. It`s not really a loop, the entire ride is one loop. The only people who do it twice are the hundred milers, and from what I hear there are only a few of them riding today. I still don`t understand why the number of riders is so low. The weather is perfect and the trails are well marked. And we`ve run into just a few 4 wheelers, who have all been courteous to us, pulling over and some of them even turning off their machines. If Dance keeps up the pace I still might have time for my afternoon nap, even though we`re adding an extra ten miles to our normal 25.

WHEW, almost done. Please let me know some of you are reading this.

cya,
Howard

Far OUTTTT Forest With the Kid: Part V - Howard

I`m riding alone on the trail, searching for her. For some inexplicable reason I just can`t get this woman out of my mind. Dance and I turn a corner and up ahead and I see her. She`s still sunbathing, still nude, exactly like the last time I saw her. The reflection of the bright sun resonates from her well oiled body. She looks up, smiles and waves to me, first as in Hello, then a hand gesture telling me to come closer. I approach her on horseback, and when I`m about ten feet away, I start feeling dizzy. My mind enters some kind of hypnotic trance as I find myself looking at this beautiful creature. She`s a well proportioned, young brunette, with the most perfect body I have ever seen. And that smile, on her lovely face, melts any inhibitions I might have. I try not to stare, but just can`t resist her power. She says, "Hi, my name is Debbie. Why don`t you get off that big horse and sit down for a chat."

I get off Dance, hook up his reins to the saddle, and walk towards her. "I haven`t been able to stop thinking of you, since yesterday," I say. Deb says, "I know, would you like a beer?" I answer, "Sure," and WHAACKKKKKKKKKKKKKK.............a tree limb has just knocked me off my horse, I do a double somersault backwards, and land in the deep sand. "Dad, are you OK? Didn`t you see that branch?" says Jennifer. Maria is there, also, just wondering what the heck happened here.

I notice that the visor on my helmet is now hanging to the side, I pull on it and off it comes. Man, I must have been in some kind of trance or something. Not a safe thing to do out here. I tell Jen and Maria I`m OK, get back on Dance Line, and off we go, hoping they forget about my faux pas eventually. Maria asks me, "Would you like me to ride in front?" "Sure thing," I tell her, knowing she`s lost confidence in my ability to lead.

This part of the loop definitely seems more remote than the first. This trail is not a series of loops like I`m used to. It`s one long 50 mile loop, with a cut that the 35 milers take. The only people who do it twice are the hundred milers, and from what I hear there are only a few of them riding today. I still don`t understand why the number of riders is so low. The weather is perfect and the trails are well marked. And we`ve run into just a few 4 wheelers, who have all been courteous to us, most of them pulling their vehicles to the side of the trail to get out of our way. Some of the drivers even turned off their engines, making it easier for us to go by. If Dance keeps up this pace, and the nonriders continue to be so polite, I still might have time for my afternoon nap, even though we`re adding an extra ten miles to our normal 25.

Dance is hardly sweating; I`m glad I sponged him thoroughly at the last vet check. Jennifer had won this cool sponge at the Osceola ride for finishing first in juniors. It has a long plastic cord (long enough to hit the ground from atop my giraffe), with metal hooks and a ring attachment, all making it easy to separate and throw into a river, lake, pond, or puddle. She`s letting me carry it today, knowing my horse needs it more than hers. I`m convinced that using a sponge, as often as you can, especially on a tall legged Saddlebred, is one of the keys to this sport. I can`t tell you how many sponges I`ve lost because of a poor knot, to rivers, swamps and hungry gators.

Maria is keeping a good pace, we mostly canter, with her tiny Arab leading the way. Jen keeps talking, telling me I should always be ready and pay attention. "Were you sleeping, Dad?" she asks. I`d like to tell her what happened, but just grunt in the affirmative to her question. I lean down and hug the long neck of my gelded male companion, telling him that I`ll keep my mind alert and block out thinking of my nude sunbather for the rest of our ride.

After a few miles we come up on our last remote vet check. Hardly any riders are here; in fact there are more volunteers and crew members than riders and horses. Jen and I both dismount. I take Dance over to a water trough, he drinks and Jen and I go over to this makeshift vet area that parallels a dirt road. Dance still has alot of energy and he`s a bit hard to control. I kinda yell at him to settle down, but inside I`m amazed at the fire this horse still has in his belly after 26 miles. I love his spirit.

The lady with the stethoscope says he`s 64 and I go up to the female vet. She recognizes me from the Hahira ride, and tells me my horse has really put on some weight since she last saw him. I tell her it`s not the same guy, even though they are cousins and have the same chestnut color and similar markings. As she is doing her checks, Dance moves around constantly. This volunteer, wearing a bright orange cap, comes over and tells me rather sternly, "You need to keep on the side of the horse that the vet is on."

I remember seeing this guy before, at the pre ride briefing. I think he even got up and said a few words on the danger of us losing our trees or, maybe, it was trails. My face flushes with anger, I`m about to lash out at this tree hugger, but I keep it in. I want to offer him the reins, to see how well he thinks he can do with my hyper giraffe, who presently isn`t too keen on being checked for anal tone, but, instead, I keep quiet. I kinda nod my head, knowing that if I speak the words would wound him, and orange cap wanders off, thinking he`s helped me immensely.

I`m grateful to anyone who volunteers at these rides, but instruction is not something I`m looking for, especially from a non rider who is just observing. I have a jumpy horse and I kinda like him that way. Orange cap is lucky Dance didn`t bite him; my horse moonlights as a guard dog, protecting my back yard during the weekdays. You should see him patrol my fence!

The lady vet asks me to trot my horse out and we do so without a hitch. The vet says, "That was lovely, he`s looking good." I think she likes my horse or maybe it`s just my winning smile. Haha. I get out of the way, but hang close by to keep an eye on Jennifer. I want Rebel to know his buddy is still around.

Rebel and Dance seem to need each other at these stops; the bonding that develops between the two horses, during an endurance run, is unbreakable. Because of this I actually walk the road that parallels the trot out area, to make things easier for my 47 inches tall, and still growing, daughter. She gets thru the check fine and we walk away from the vet area. Maria is next in line, with about three other riders behind her.

This last remote vet check seems too empty to me; few riders and not much activity, especially when compared to our last stop. I look for my other bucket, but don`t see it anywhere. I see Allison, taking a break, and Jen and I go sit next to her. Allison, my number one fan, tells me what I did wrong with my bucket placing last night. I definitely did not pay attention at the pre-ride briefing and, evidently, placed my buckets in the wrong location. One of them is at the second vet check, the one the 35 milers never see. Sometimes my stupidity amazes even me.

Allison offers us her hay and some feed for my horses. The two gobble it up and Rebel tries to rub up on Allison to thank her. She gives Jennifer a bottle of Gator Aid, a granola bar, and some other stuff to eat. Allison then says Good-bye, because her hold is over and it`s time to mount her Mustang. If it wasn`t for the kindness of others I don`t think I would make it through a ride. I sure can`t count on my own organizational skills. I know, in a year or two, Jennifer will have this whole thing managed perfectly.

Maria joins us and I tell her Jen and I will start out slow, since we might leave ten minutes or so ahead of her. She nods her head and I notice she looks a bit tired. It`s my guess that Jen`s conversational skill has worn Maira down, but I keep the thought to myself. Maria doesn`t seem to be in the mood for my humor right now.

A very nice gentleman (not orange cap) comes over, tells Jen and me we can leave, and does so by using our first names. What a nice guy. I tell Jen we should try and get the horses to drink again, so we walk over to the water trough. Feeling kinda sore, I`m not in any hurry to mount up. Jen and I just watch our two funny companions splash each other in the face, playing with the water more than drinking it. These two horses have just made our day; man, do I love these guys.

During this time Maria leaves the vet area and I don`t think she noticed us next to the water trough. By the time I realize this Maria is out of sight and I tell Jen we need to get going. Jen gets onto her horse by herself (this never ceases to amaze me) and I put Dance in a ditch, using the higher ridge area as my stool. I feel something pull in my back, as I mount up, wondering how that`s going to feel tonight. I hear a few of the crew people chuckle at seeing me climb aboard and wave to them as Jen and I depart the area. It`s rare that Dance and I don`t get a laugh or two from people watching us.

We start out in a trot but soon hit our gait of choice today, the canter. Maria is nowhere to be seen and I have the feeling she`s moving quickly, thinking we are ahead of her. I mention this to Jen and she suggests we go a little faster to try and catch the woman who is trying to catch us. The trail is much like it`s been all day, loose sand, but plenty wide, with not too many turns. I avoid all deep holes just knowing there is a hidden tree root in there.

During our run Jennifer gets her horse to pass me, she sticks her butt up in the air, turns her head around, points to her hip and says, "This is what I`ve had to look at all day." Haha, I only wish mine was that small. Jen and Rebel keep the lead for a few miles, still no sign of Maria.

After a few spooks from Rebel, Jen decides she doesn`t need to be in the lead anymore and lets me pass her. We finally spot Maria, I yell at her but she doesn`t see or hear me. Maria and her tiny Arab mare are booking down the trail. We increase our speed a little, Dance spots Maria`s horse and is more than willing to play catch up.

We get to a marking with an arrow pointing left and notice Maria missed the turn. I yell for her as loud as I can and get her attention. Big lungs in a little body pay off sometimes. I yell again saying, "Wrong way," and motion for her to come in our direction. We wait for her and Maria says, "I thought you guys were ahead of me. I was really getting frustrated not seeing you at all." Looks like I`m not the only daydreamer in the crowd.

We continue on the final section of this huge loop and catch up to Allison, who is in a trot. She stays with us for a while until we get to another intersection, where the sign for the turn seems incorrect since the arrow points straight up. We stop, I pull out my map and think I find our location. As we are talking, discussing which way to go, I spot a group of men sitting around a table next to a small trailer. I don`t see any vehicles next to their trailer. The men see us, get up and walk our way. On the table I notice an empty bottle of Jim Beam, tons of empty beer cans, and what looks to be a water pipe or bong of some kind (don`t ask how I know these terms). Oh great.

One man in the group yells out to me, "Hey mister, you lost? We know which way to go." The man then starts waving his arms wildly in kind of a circular motion. I have no idea what this guy is up to. He then stops the motion, crosses his chest with his arms and points out in two different directions with both of his hands. At the same time he says, "You go this way," perfectly mimicking the Scarecrow from "The Wizard of OZ." His buddies all laugh, slapping themselves silly and acting like this is the funniest thing they have ever seen. Too much! I`m wondering if they were the ones who messed with the directional arrow.

This gives our group the incentive to hit the trail, even if we`re going the wrong way. I`m sure the men were harmless, but I just can`t imagine a lone female, doing a 100 miler, out here late at night after dark, running into this group. The Far Out Forest Pervert could be hiding behind any of these bushes out here. The fact that I didn`t see a car anywhere is what freaked me out. I`m not a gun nut by any means, but if I were that lone female rider I would definitely consider carrying one after witnessing what the four of us just did.

Jennifer starts asking questions about the men. I try and assure her they were just having fun, but Maria and Allison give looks that indicate otherwise. Allison drops off behind us and it`s just the original three, still cantering along. I`m amazed at how well Dance is doing today. His leg, with the bowed tendon, is holding up and he seems to be having a great time out here. After going a few more miles, around a lake, and down a dirt road with no vehicles, I spot our campground. We`ve come full circle and are back to our temporary home.

Jen and I are the first to enter the vet area and no other rider is around. The head vet (this guy is so cool) comes out to meet us and says, "One of you is in tenth place, the other is in eleventh." I look at Jen and it`s a no brainer. "She`s in tenth, I`m behind her," I say. This smile comes over Jennifer`s face that I`ve never seen before; she`s extremely full of herself and I`m quite proud of my daughter. The vet does his checks and then tells Jennifer she needs to come back with her horse, in less than one hour from now, so he can look at Rebel for Best Conditioned horse. Wow!

The vet also tells her to remove all tack and weigh herself in at the Pavilion. After he finishes looking at my horse I help Jen with the tack and she hits the scales, barely able to carry her saddle and pad. And the man records her at a whopping 89 lbs. Too bad they don`t have an award for lightest rider.

We walk back to our campsite and Jen`s excited. She asks me, "What do we do with Rebel?" "How should I know? I`ve never top tenned," I respond, with a smile. "Dadddddddd." I tell her to brush off her horse, we`ll feed them and clean him up as much as we can. I get out the beet pulp, water it down, add some grain, and feed both horses. I throw them some hay and grab a beer and sit down. My body is aching. I know I`ll hardly be able to get out of bed in the morning.

As Jennifer brushes off her horse she continues talking. "I just can`t wait to tell Samantha and Roxanne that I top tenned. And now I`m going up for BC....yada, yada, yada, yada." Actually, I`m quite enjoying this and wish I had the energy to go get out the video camera that`s in the truck. Jen`s normally a very happy kid, but she has just peaked at total satisfaction. I`m so glad I`m here to see, and hear, it all. Watching and listening to her, I know this memory, will stay with me till the day I die.

I help Jennifer clean up Rebel, letting the horse continue to eat while doing so. We then leave our campsite and go back to the vet area. Again, no one is ahead of us and Jennifer does her thing. At the end of the trot out Jen kinda stops a bit too suddenly; Rebel stops right behind following her lead. His legs dig into the deep sand and the horse goes down, all the way to his front knees. The crowd that had gathered around all goes, "OHHHHHHHHHH," thinking Jen might get hurt or the horse has just injured himself. I kinda chuckle to myself, knowing that neither is the case. The vet, Dr. Cool, seems to know the horse is fine. Rebel gets up and the BC check is complete. I feel that Rebel knew his show was over and he was just taking a Bow for the audience.

That`s it. My story`s done, complete, finished. I will tell you it got so cold that night, after the run, Jennifer and I slept in the truck, with the diesel engine running. Since all our neighbors, Roxanne and Stuck Lady, left I knew we weren`t keeping anyone up. Jen didn`t get BC (weight is a factor), but she did get a lot of neat stuff for top tenning. In closing I`d like to ask all my Southern neighbors to please put this ride on your calendar for next year. We`re down to three endurance rides a year in Florida and I`d hate to lose this one, due to lack of participation. If I can finish on my Saddlebred, I know you guys can too. If you show, beer`s on me. Promise.

And, no, I didn`t go looking for HER the next day. But she was on my mind as I pulled out of ridecamp with my rig. haha.

cya,
Howard

Far OUTTTT Forest With the Kid: Part I & II - Howard

The kid and I were raring to go. Jennifer hasn`t shut up about THE RIDE since ten days to takeoff and I was getting kinda edgy myself. Even though we have never come close to placing in the top ten at any of these endurance rides, we always think we have to potential to do so. Some egos never die, and my kid`s idea of competing kinda keeps feeding mine.

Course I just hope to complete, cause when you ride a 17 H Saddlebred, you don`t always get to finish. I had returned my other Saddlebred (Skeletor), that I was leasing, to his owner cause I was having serious weight problems with the horse and knew he and I were not a match. Even though he was one of the craziest horses I`ve ever ridden (you`d think that would be a match right there) I just could not keep weight on him no matter what I did. For the Far Out Forest, I was putting all my chips on Dance Line, the tallest horse at Ridecamp, no matter where I go, who has had some leg problems in the past. My pull rate at these endurance rides, with Skeletor or Dance Line, is almost 50 percent; Jennifer, riding her Arab, has never been pulled at a ride.

The big day finally comes. I think one of the reason`s Jennifer loves these rides is that I usually pull her out of school a day or two so we can get to camp early. FOF is the closest endurance ride to my house, a 55 mile trip, if you can believe that. If only they were all like that I`d be in endurance heaven.

We get up early, wife is hanging around watching me pack up (actually I started packing two weeks ago), just laughing her butt off at me because of my nutty way of doing things. When I bought out the duck tape to seal the cooler (and, yes, I did put the food in first) she had to hit the bathroom she was laughing so hard. One of these days she`s going with us and I can`t wait till she sees me cook with an alcohol burner that is so old it has a born on date of 1944. I lit it on one trip and 8 foot flames started coming out of this tiny burner filled with alcohol (did I buy the right stuff?), igniting a tree that I had put it under (duh) and melting my tea kettle and the cooler I had been using as a table underneath the burner. If you camp close to me you must carry a fireman`s ax, fireproof blankets, and a water hose.

I finish packing everything I can think of loading and do the last thing that I hate doing. Loading the horses. Now Jen`s horse, Rebel (yea, I know his name is Politically Incorrect), loads real easy. Walks right in. Skeletor was a pain in the butt and Dance Line is not much easier. Dance is sooooooooo tall and his neck is sooooooo long he has to put his head down quite a bit to get in my rather tall trailer. And his body requires two spaces in my three horse slant load. But I have learned a trick or two and I`d tell y`all what I do, but some of you might try it without me, and if I`m not there to show you how to do it, you might injure your horse a bit. So it will be my little secret. I get Dance Line in using my "method," hook him up and notice his back legs are still on the ramp. This guy is so long I have to special order any blanket to get it close to covering his butt.

I figure I`ll just get behind him and push him in, but as I go to exit the trailer, Dance starts freaking out and pulling hard on the trailer tie. I "exit stage left" as quick as my little legs can move, watch Dance pull back so hard the rubber mat slides from his back legs to his front and down goes Dance`s body, all except the head, still attached to the tie. The break away didn`t break; and I`m actually kind of glad. Maybe he learned something there. Dance stands up quivering, I yell at him to get his body completely in (he does), raise the ramp, close the top and know I`m off with a couple of first class nags and an 11 year old who is gonna talk my ear off the next 55 miles.

HEY, Gotta go to work but I`ll finish it (sometime), promise.

cya,
Howard

PART II

The drive was uneventful, except for listening to my daughter talk incessantly, the entire trip, without taking hardly a breath for air. I actually knew the way to this campground; I was there last year. It was the Far Out Forest ride where I pulled my horse, even before I started, during the pre-ride Vet Check. I reluctantly did this after hearing the advice of the head vet (he was supposed to be there this year and is my favorite vet of all times) and from an endurance rider who was a reliable friend. Tendon problems are not good ones and can put your horse out of the game permanently. But I had heard some phenomenal comeback stories, endurance related, and I was planning on Dance being one of them. Actually, I was kinda praying cause I was having insecure feelings (non Jesse Ventura type) about my horse`s legs.

And here I am driving to the same ride with the same horse. Look up the word stubborn in a dictionary and you`ll see a picture of me and my horse. We were returning, this time accompanied by Jennifer and Rebel, to a ride so close to my house I wouldn`t pass it up even if the entire ride was one big sand dune (it isn`t). As I drove to Doe Lake I attempt sending telepathic thoughts to my horse, Dance Line. I tell him I consider him a superior, athletic specimen, whose Achilles` heel is a left front tendon. I mentally transmit, "Dance, OLE buddy, if you get us thru the 35 miles of deep sand at this ride, your status will be elevated highly in my back yard. I will let you pick the gait for most of the ride. As God is my witness (I love "Gone with the Wind," sorry), you will be adored as no horse before you (hey, it is telepathic thought, so I embellish)."

Unfortunately, Dance was too busy worrying about the mat he uprooted from the floor of my trailer (I could feel the back end sway every so often as I drove, especially when I made a turn or stopped) to answer me. But I knew he and I would have plenty of time to discuss it, face to face, before the start of the ride tomorrow morning. I had left the house by 10:30 AM (I got up at 6 to put the finishing touches on my packing, haha) and hit Doe Lake by high noon on a beautiful, but brisk, sunny day with not one cloud in the sky.

As I pulled into the Ridecamp area, I noticed not too many rigs were here. This surprised me because I remembered at the ride last year, this time of day, it was twice as crowded. And Jean`s ride, at Osceola last month, had a lot more riders and rigs. I started wondering if, maybe, the deep sand and the three vetchecks outside ridecamp were the reason for the lack of riders. Oh well, I know just the spot I want, way back in the corner with Lakefront property. And I take it.

I set up the portable corral in record time (for me under 30 minutes), exit the horses, look at Dance making sure he`s OK (he is) and start out with the tent. I had made the mistake of letting Jennifer run off, not realizing I needed her to help me with the poles. So I wander to search for the kid and to see if any riders are registering. I check for my wallet, with my fresh AERC cards in the front pocket (I have it), and wander towards this huge pavilion meeting hall they have here. The building has a fireplace, which I figure will be popular later tonight.

I find Jennifer, say hello to a few folks and go into the hall. Only one person in front of me in line. Yesssssss. Too cool. Then, as I`m standing there I realize I forgot to bring the Coggins papers. Duh. So, I leave the Pavilion, say hello to a few more folks, who have their stuff together, and watch them form a line that was nonexistent a few seconds ago. Damn.

I force Jen to escort me to our campsite, get her to help me erect my Wal-Mart tent special that sleeps 6, and then let her wander off again. I go back to the Pavilion and get in a line that isn`t too long. Looks like lines will not be a problem at this ride. In front of me is Jean, from Osceola, and I talk with her a bit. During this time Jennifer and her friend join us for a couple minutes. Jean looks at my daughter, then at me and proceeds to tell the tale of The Far Out Forest Pervert who molested and killed a young girl and then killed her family somewhere near here a couple years ago. Not far from this very spot, in the same forest, that is to be our home for the next three days. I look at my daughter and wink, hoping she will think Jean`s story is fiction, which I find myself also wishing. My kid needs her sleep tonight and if Jean`s tale keeps her up or gives her nightmares I`m gonna be pissed in the morning.

Jean finishes her tale, I don`t let her know she`s irritated me a bit, and we finish registering. I grab Jennifer again and tell her we`re gonna beat the vet line today. We hurry and grab our two horses, and I notice my new female neighbor has just gotten herself stuck in the sand next to our campsite. Before I leave our portable corral with our horses I go up to her and ask if I can help. She`s in a foul mood and tells me help is on the way. Good thing cause my 2 WD diesel wouldn`t be able to get out of the hole she`s dug her truck into. I leave with the horses, feeling I`ve been a good neighbor, and Jen and I hit the vet check area, with only one horse and rider in front of us.

The vet doing the check is the best I`ve ever seen at an endurance ride, so I listen to him pass on to the rider in front of me some valuable information concerning horse conformation. He has spotted something with her horse`s front legs. He has her horse do a figure 8 kinda thing and the horse comes up lame in one particular direction, twice. The vet kinda knew this would happen before it did, which amazes me cause the horse looks pretty good, in my opinion. Anyway, he doesn`t disqualify the rider but does give her some advice concerning this ride and I look at Dance and think, "It`s showtime, and I`m not gonna mention last year." We breeze through the check with all A`s and then I get to watch my Jennifer.

I`m not sure if I told you but even though Jen is 11, she could easily pass for 7 because of her height. Since I have a living Grandmother (she`s 85) who is 4"10" my genes have to take the responsibility for this part of Jennifer`s physical appearance. Riders in line watch her trot out her 15 H Arab, and are usually impressed. So is the vet and he talks to her the entire time, hardly looking at the horse (I`m joking). Rebel gets strait A`s also, and we hike back to our camp. I spot Truman in line, he yells out something funny about my horse ("It sure must be colder up there on top of that mountain you ride"), a few other riders in line laugh, and I ask Truman why he`s not wearing shorts, since that`s what he wore at Osceola when it was 35 degrees outside. I can`t retort as well as Angie, off the cuff, but I still give it a shot.

A few of the riders in line next to Truman laughed (out of courtesy I think) and Jen and I go back to our campsite. No one is camped next to me, except for the STUCK LADY we have for a neighbor. I ask Jen if she wants to see if her friend Samantha and Samantha`s Mom (St. Sandy) want to ride with us, after they vet in. Jen takes off to ask them. I`m realizing that Sandy is the only Georgia buddy I got that`s showing up at this ride. Sandy has too much class to bother me while I`m napping, so this might be a good thing, even though I`ll miss the drinking company.

I relax and have a beer. Find some food, eat and realize I`m nap material all ready. Jen comes back and tells me Sam and her Mom are saddling up. Damn, there goes the nap, but it is a beautiful day. By the time Jennifer and I are done tacking up Dance Line and Rebel, St. Sandy and Samantha ride up to us and say Hello. The four of us leave the camp area on horseback and head out around Doe Lake.

We ride a bit, Sandy says something about my tights asking if I`ve lost weight. I tell her I might have, I`m down to only a twelve pack a day right now, a drastic reduction. haha. I canter on ahead, Sam and Sandy want to take it easy cause they`re doing a 50 tomorrow, and end up ahead of the other three so much they`re out of site. Jennifer had decided she wanted to stay behind with Samantha. I come up to some camp area and notice a woman who appears to be sunbathing. She must be a Yankee, cause it`s too cold for most Southerners to be in a bathing suit today.

I ride a little closer to the young lady, just to make sure she`s OK, and notice something quite unique about her. She`s totally naked, trying to get that all over tan. Wow. I wonder if she`ll want to come over and pet my horse? haha. I decide to stop wandering towards her, even though it`s really what I want to do, because the camper next to her might contain a male or guard dog (is there a difference?) and I don`t think either one of them will want to pet my horse.

So I just wait for the gals, admiring the view, the young lady catches me looking, smiles and waves. This gives me the incentive to wander over closer but then I hear the other horses coming my way. I ride towards St. Sandy and the gang, not wanting them to think I`m some kind of pervert or something. I don`t tell anyone about the naked lady and we continue on our ride.

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